Being a refugee is not a label that one would wish to have. Despite the 44 years that have gone by and the acquisition of Canadian citizenship, I never forget that I am indeed, a refugee.
Today we recognise World Refugee Day. But for more than 65 million refugees — over half of whom are children — June 20 is just another day spent away from their homes and out of the classroom.
80% of refugee children are out of school — the majority are girls. Rates of secondary education for refugee children are particularly low due to a lack of support and funding from the international community. Of the two and a half million refugee adolescents of secondary school age, nearly two million do not attend secondary school. Girls in conflict settings are 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than their peers in non-conflict affected countries.
As part of Malala Fund’s mission to secure 12 years of free, safe, quality education for every girl, we place a special emphasis on helping refugee girls. We advocate for increased support to refugee education and the countries that host them. The top ten refugee host countries — who are home to 58% of refugees — have just 2% of global wealth.
We need donor nations to increase both humanitarian and development aid to education. The fair share contributions for education in 2015 UN humanitarian appeals amounted to $531 million — but only $100 million was received. This lack of humanitarian education aid is exacerbated by insufficient funding provided by development aid. Total development aid to education is six times below the level required to meet SDG 4 by 2030. And refugee education projects made up just 0.6% of all education aid in 2014.
World leaders need to recognize the realities of the refugee crisis. Refugees are exiled from their homes on average for 20 years, meaning that millions of children will spend their entire school years as refugees. The international refugee response must include both primary and secondary education for refugee children.
Education is an investment in economic growth, a healthier workforce, lasting peace and the future of our planet. In some countries, doubling the percentage of students finishing secondary school would halve the risk of conflict. Failing to commit to long-term responses is not only to the detriment of refugees, but to our entire world.
In addition to advocating for increased humanitarian and development education aid, Malala Fund also supports local education activists. Through our new initiative, the Gulmakai Network, we invest in education leaders in countries with the most out-of-school girls. Nayla Fahed is one of our inaugural Gulmakai Champions. She is president and co-founder of Lebanese Alternative Learning (LAL), an organisation that uses digital learning platforms to reach vulnerable communities.
With her grant, Nayla is developing STEM e-learning programmes for Syrian refugee girls living in Lebanon. If refugee girls do have the opportunity to re-enter the classroom, they often experience difficulties due to the gaps in their education. Nayla believes that alternative modes of learning can help them catch-up. She uses digital platforms to aid Syrian refugee girls in their transition into Lebanese schools. By offering them the opportunity to study STEM as opposed to vocational trainings like sewing and cooking, Nayla hopes these refugee girls will use their education to become forces of societal change.
On World Refugee Day, I ask you to think of refugee girls not as statistics, but as the faces of our future. They are the next generation doctors, engineers, teachers and politicians who will rebuild their home countries after conflict — they just need the tools to do so. The international community needs to recognise that the world’s most pressing problems can be solved not by bullets and bombs, but by investing in education for every child. It is time we commit to refugee girls’ education and commit to a better future for our world.